So let's see now, what do we have to catch up on? Yesterday, as you know, was President Obama's second inauguration, and he took the oath of office with his hand on a Bible once owned by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., before giving what turned out to possibly be the best inaugural speech of the 21st Century. "We will respond to the threat of climate change," he promised, "knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms." A reality-based President - what a concept.
Meanwhile, back here in the ATL, Muhammad Yunus, the father of micro-credit who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 and lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh, announced that he will soon call Atlanta his second home, thanks in part to Dr. King's legacy. At the launch of his Yunus Creative Lab, he said, “It’s official. We have to start a program in Atlanta. A lot of people are saying they want to be part of it.”
Atlanta can already boast of having had two Nobel Peace Prize winners — Dr. King and former President Jimmy Carter, and a visiting winner, adjunct Emory University professor His Holiness the Dalai Lama. “I have a very close connection with Atlanta now and for many years back,” Mr. Yunus said. “Martin Luther King was a dream maker. King is someone who inspired me throughout my life.”
On a much lower level of karmic awareness, last week Rush Limbaugh wondered aloud on his radio show if civil rights leaders such as Dr. King and Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta) would have been beaten up had they had carried guns. "I'm just asking," he said, to which Rep. Lewis replied, "African Americans in the '60s could have chosen to arm themselves, but we made a conscious decision not to. We were convinced that peace could not be achieved through violence. Violence begets violence, and we believed the only way to achieve peaceful ends was through peaceful means."
Agreed and well put (I'm proud that Mr. Lewis is my representative in Congress). But there were African Americans in the '60s who did choose to arm themselves. Citing a Second Amendment right to bear arms, to defend themselves and their community against government oppression, the Black Panthers took up arms and the right wing totally freaked out at that time. They're still freaked out, constantly ranting about modern-day Panther members patrolling polling places and intimidating voters. I say the patriarchs of the modern NRA-backed gun-rights movement are not the nation's founding fathers, but the Black Panthers. I don't understand why the NRA doesn't recognize their role models for who they are.
Coming back to the present moment, or at least closer to the present moment, during last evening's Monday Night Zazen, we discussed the arousing of Bodhi-mind. Many of us find our way to Zen practice through our experience of suffering, and take up spiritual practice sensing that transformation is possible. But in order to truly transform our suffering, we have to see deeply into its nature - we have to address the root of our suffering. By clearly seeing and acknowledging the effects that the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance have on our lives, we can begin to do something about them.
A full-day retreat at Brooklyn's Fire Lotus Temple on Saturday, February 2, 2013, will focus on the three poisons and the effects they have on every aspect of our lives. Led by senior lay practitioner and dharma holder Ron Hogen Green, the retreat will offer guidance of how we cause suffering, and how it is from greed, anger, and ignorance that the whole of cyclic existence and suffering arises. Our usual strategies--repression and avoidance on the one hand, and acting them out on the other--only serve to perpetuate the cycle of suffering, but sincere practice opens another door. In their essence, the three poisons are powerful energies that arise in this negative form because of our self-centered views. As our hold on these views begins to loosen, our greed, anger, and ignorance naturally begin to transform into the three virtues of compassion, wisdom, and enlightenment. This is the path of liberation that the Buddha taught.
The Buddhist precepts are like a set of road signs or compass orientations on this path of liberation. To be in accordance with the precepts is to be moving in the correct direction toward liberation. When we’re not acting in accordance with the precepts, that’s fine (at least from a Zen point of view – there might be legal or karmic consequences to consider), but you’re not moving in the direction toward liberation and you’re squandering your precious time in human existence. It's your choice, but that’s why Zen is so full of reminders of our own impermanence (we shouldn’t waste all of our time on trivial matters) and on achieving bodhi-mind (desire for awakening).
Even the Bodhisattva vow to save all sentient beings is more aspirational than literal. Do you really think you can free all sentient beings? Every person living in the Australian Outback, every bird in the sky, every hissing cockroach in the jungles of Madagascar? We’re doomed to fail, but we still keep trying.
An ancient Tibetan text advises us “As a bee seeks nectar from all kind of flowers, seek teachings everywhere. Like a deer that finds a quiet place to graze, seek seclusion to digest all that you have gathered. Like a madman beyond all limits, go wherever you please and live like a lion completely free of all fear.” Gate, gate, paragate, y'all, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.